This week’s Mailbag: great letters to the Editor (and replies).

Here are last week’s comments.  They are excellent! My thanks to everyone who sent these.

Asked and Answered

Send in your comments! Use the contact form, or email to Editor at (note the spam-protected format). Those of general interest will be posted (anonymously on requested) in the weekly mailbag posts.

Why have comments been turned off on the FM website? It’s the same reason others have done so. Click here to learn more.

(1)  From Paul

In response to A status report on the US economy. What can we expect in 2014?

I can see why you closed the comments on that post. Everybody was so busy grinding their own axes that they could not hear you.

This is the worst I’ve seen it get in the last couple of years and I’m a bit surprised as the topic didn’t really seem that controversial and was clearly written. I can only think of two reasons why it got so bad:

  1. A particularly determined group of Trolls (currently the leading theory)
  2. A level of personal anguish in a number of individuals that caused knee-jerk reactions

(2)  From Isaac

In response to Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility.

It all clicked for me with your italicized ‘knows’ regarding Tom’s position on Global Warming. For many of the “Leftist/Liberal” people I’ve dealt with over the years, reports from the IPCC – or anyone else for that matter – never come into play. They’ve already made logical leaps to arrive at an equation – which, in reality, is a conflation. Stay with me:

Irresponsible resource depletion (clear cutting, over fishing, low-mpg SUVs, etc.), habitat encroachment and species endangerment and extinction, smog and sprawl, food scarcity even when coupled with the rise of productivity through the shift to corporate agribusiness, etc., etc., etc.

All of above are seen as ‘bad things’ by these people. And, generally, rightly so. They’re all ‘bad’ for the planet. And they’re all able to be experienced, personally, in a way both felt and understood. The leap they’ve made, though, is to think that all of the above are symptoms of some larger ‘bad’ trend – of which Global Warming is also a symptom.

I don’t think it’s a question of confusing correlation with causation, either – though many do make this leap also. They just have a gut sense that, since the above examples (and others) are bona fide facts to them, global warming just is, too. It’s a transitive assertion in spite of many weak, or even lacking associations! This, of course, is as intellectually dishonest as their counterparts dismissing global warming – as something to even be considered and studied – out of hand.

As ever, great post.

(3)  From Steve

In response to Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility.


Q and A

Political: since the 1960’s, the major change in the environment movement has been the subversion of political action by corporate interests. Rather than fighting the environmental organizations, the money-players bought them, to use in competition with each other. Cory Morningstar specifically changed my thinking and behavior on this issue; I urge you to read the article at: Keystone XL: The Art of NGO Discourse | Part I, The Art of Annihilation.

Scientific: doing good science is as hard as distinguishing noise from necessity on the battlefield. Finding something of value that can be measured is difficult. Specifically, we have a water planet, and water is one of the best substances in the universe at stabilizing heat change. This is expressed in terms of heat capacity and latent heat.

As the glaciers and polar ice caps melt, they stabilize the environment. But any previous melts eliminated their own evidence, so our models by necessity must extrapolate. Models are pretty good at interpolating, but extrapolation is where our assumptions are challenged. In other words, they’re best guesses.

In addition to heat characteristics, ice is highly reflective. As there is less surface area of ice, the albedo of the planet decreases and more light is absorbed from the sun.

At the end of the day, though, is the difficulty of ‘accepting the things we cannot change.’ China is going to burn its coal regardless of what anyone else thinks. Russia will benefit from arctic melting and is acting in its self-interest. So the emotional fervor is partially due to the lack of agency to be able to do anything meaningful about the problem. Rather than trying to force the environment back to where it was, it may be more useful to focus on our own ‘key qualities that permit one to shape and adapt to an ever-changing environment.’

As for collective action, Robert Paterson had a worthy post worth re-reading: “Does big change ever happen from the bottom up? Why you will fail if you try there first“, 7 June 2013.

(4)  From Doug

In response to Apocalyptic thinking on the Left about climate change risks burning their credibility.

You have offered a number of posts regarding the left soiling themselves with exaggerated claims about global warming. Will you offer any thing about the right/teaparty denial of global warming, especially anthropogenic. It seems they deny that man can have any significant impact. As a result they seem to use the same issue as a rallying point. Are they wrong? Should they have a different position, will we be better off if they win.

Does the right actually have a position? If so what is it?

Reply from the Editor:

I frequently mention the right-wing’s nutty views on climate, but they’re too well-known to warrant more than mention. As in Climate change sinks the Left, while scientists unravel mysteries we must solve, 24 January 2014

Summary: Climate change appears on the FM website (about geopolitics) because it shows how America deals with highly politicized and complex challenges. 150 posts later, somethings are clear. Climate scientists are moving the frontiers of knowledge (as shown in this post) and skillfully coping with the various audiences involved in this vital public policy debate. The Right has, as usual these days, slowly collapsed into ignorance (the comments on conservative websites like WUWT are horrifying). The Left’s reaction is more interesting, and the first subject of this post.

A major and long-standing theme on the FM website has been the Right’s disconnect from reality. Example: Conservatives show us their thinking, not well glued to reality — Summary:

Summary: As the GOP prepares to shut down the government to prevent millions of people getting health care, it becomes vital to understand how they see America. The answer, obvious to anyone paying attention: badly, as through a mirror darkly. Here we look at a few examples, part of a series about this rogue force in US politics (links to other chapters are at the end).

(5)  From Anonymous

In response to:  “Climate change is slowly but steadily cooking the world’s oceans”, 5 February 2014.

Thanks for this post, it is IIRC the first time you bring the two aspects, i.e. increased uptake of energy, and (lack of) change of temperature with illustrative pictures in one post.

There is only improvement I would make.  Give a short explanation of heat capacity, give values of cp of air and water. This would make IMHO things clearer as many people do not understand the difference between energy and temperature.

Reply from the Editor:

Thank you for the feedback, and the suggestion!

Explaining the difference between temperature and energy would be useful in this post. On the other hand, the average (and probably the ideal) length of an article on the internet is 300 – 500 words. My experience is that people in general don’t read more than a thousand words This post is already 1800 words.

So sharp boundaries must be drawn when writing, and that inevitably means useful information goes unsaid.

(6)  From Steve

In response to Today you can take the first step to reforming America, 6 February 2014.

This is as well-said as you have said it.

Reply from the Editor:

Practice makes perfect (or at least better).

(7)  From Tony

In response to Today you can take the first step to reforming America, 6 February 2014.

If only.

I’m curious why you shut off comments to this piece?

Your Ron Suskind quote is very interesting. Its clear that the world is driven by outsized ego’s, malignant narcissists, hungering for power, control, money. A benevolent nature is going to have a difficult time indeed, confronting, and vanquishing the like of Mr. Rove, let alone the Lolyd Blankfien’s and Vladamir Putin’s of the world.

I would personally enjoy a cathartic reboot, as long as few had to die. Unfortunately, the course we’re heading down, may take a sizable number of people out in the crash at its “finishline”.

The theme of the post is, in a way, trite, and marginally provocative at the same time. The idea is terribly important, and yet so overexposed that it feels completely impotent. Who are you trying to reach?

Masses do not congeal and activate around – anything but personal hardship. Describing their hardship to them, on small footprint websites, does certainly not appear to work (prolific failure). What does? I find it annoying.

Simple things like term limits and campaign finance reform (Citizens United…really?) are too complex for masses to rally around? Financial stress, and governmental dysfunction foster modest efforts like Occupy. Unfortunately, real change is apparently only going to come about as a result of mass hardship, and mass response to it. Human nature….unfortunately, so predictable.

Honestly, I’m not sure why I even bothered to write this note. Therapy, I suppose. I hold hope that we will find some lightening in a bottle, someday.

Reply from the Editor:

(a)  I turned off comments for the same reason as so many other websites are either heavily moderating them — or shutting them off. See notes from other websites here.

(b)  A “cathartic reboot, as long as few had to die” would be nice. But these are rare. The Brits called it the “Glorious Revolution” in part because of the extraordinarily low body count.  I suggest we exert ourselves, even getting off the couch, least the dogs of war slip their leash — or, perhaps just as bad, we become domesticated to our new rulers.

(c)  “The theme of the post is, in a way, trite, and marginally provocative at the same time.”

No doubt this post is trite. Unfortunately Aristotle, Locke, and Jefferson are still dead.

(d)  “The idea is terribly important, and yet so overexposed that it feels completely impotent.”

All important themes are “overexposed” and so feel “impotent”. For example, take the Ten Commandments. If God was running the world like a sitcom, he would have varied the plot by now. No wonder his ratings are down.

(e)  “Who are you trying to reach?”

Everybody. My guess is that I’m reaching nobody.

(f)  “Masses do not congeal and activate around — anything but personal hardship. Describing their hardship to them, on small footprint websites, does certainly not appear to work (prolific failure).”

How did the abolitionist movement succeed in so many nations (the wars in Haiti and USA were the exceptions)?  These started with people advocating in small media, speakers not suffering slavery — speaking to people who were not suffering slavery.

Ditto for the suffragettes and prohibitionists. The gay rights and US civil rights movement became powerful long after their worst oppression had passed.

If you are suggesting we sit on our bums and wait for the New York Times to take up the cause of reform, be my guest. I will continue to do what I can on this “small footprint website”

(g)  “Unfortunately, real change is apparently only going to come about as a result of mass hardship, and mass response to it.”

I am impressed by the variety of excuses people give to remain passive. Are real sheep this creative?

(8)  From Jim

In response to Today you can take the first step to reforming America, 6 February 2014.

My goal over the past 10-12 years has been to help persuade my community (the Left) to reexamine its fundamental assumptions and to rethink its political framework.

Being a critic of both Big Capital and Big State I do not fit comfortably into the unfortunately still standard left/right continuum.

I have been quite hopeful that eventually groupings of individuals from across the traditional political spectrum would manage to come together(through conversations on a variety of political blogs and forums) to formulate a more coherent alternative political vision for the country and that such a vision would then be part of the foundation for a campaign of political recruitment.

Yet this initial coming together has not occurred (much to my shock and surprise). Why hasn’t this happened?

Was I naive to believe that the internet was an appropriate substitute for the brick and motor kitchen table that historically people used to sit around — in the initial stages of formulating strategies for political reform?

Was I wrong to believe that in order to launch a political movement for reform today, fundamental assumptions of both the Left and Right would need to be challenged and reformulated?

I still believe that there is massive dissatisfaction in our country–but are our traditional techniques, categories and thoughts about mobilization and recruitment completely out-of-date or irrelevant?

From the Editor:

Here’s a report on my effort at organizing in my community — and my total failure: An Independence Day special report: I have seen the New America!, 5 July 2013

(9) From M***

In response to Today you can take the first step to reforming America, 6 February 2014.

A system based on reality, not propaganda. What a vision! Can some system achieve a higher level of reality than we now seem to have?

Can our system be improved? Yes, because any other answer assumes that it now works well in all cases, and even tweaking will somehow upset the apple cart. (That’s a bad assumption.) Should it be improved? Yes, because the slope of current activity definitely means an end to the current system at some unknown time in the future. That end can be gradual or sudden, peaceful or apocalyptic, and can result from internal or external activities that now seem relatively innocent.

We need a system that is fair, effective, sustainable, and acceptable. There will always be people who believe whatever system we have is not as good as something else at achieving those four objective criteria, but pleasing everyone is only a dream. Pleasing some plurality (undefined here), making and enforcing rules that establish the system, and following known principles while allowing some flexibility are all necessary, and I would suggest sufficient for improvement.

Here are some reasons for my current inaction. I realize that doing nothing is essentially an acceptance of something less than reality. Silence is presumed, in most cases, to be approval. But frustration with even small attempts to change habitual or poorly motivated behavior has resulted in hostility, if not silence. Reward of skepticism is small and risk of any criticism is large and growing.

I don’t know how to improve our culture, but any method must first combat inaccuracy, even if some publicized set of partial facts or blatant lies support beneficial objectives. Ends/means discussions must be based on realism, not popularity, or accumulation of influential things detrimental to the society as a whole.

All FM readers: Who do YOU trust? Mom? Government? News sources? Religion. Organizations or individuals from these or any other places?

I would suggest that skepticism (not cynicism) is a precursor to trust. Our society has to accept skeptical positions to virtually all public statements in order for change to occur without crisis consequences.

(10)  From Furzy Mouse

In reply to A status report on the US economy. What can we expect in 2014?, 2 February 2014.

You seem to be overlooking Modern Monetary Theory, which if you study it a bit, will allay many of the frightful scenarios that your links hint at.For a clear and succinct understanding of current economies, I suggest reading Naked Capitalism’s many essays on the subject.

I am a retired stock and commodity broker, but was unfamiliar with this theory until, after the collapse in ’08, I needed to dig around for some explanations. I was still stuck in the old schools of econ that I studied in college, as are most commentators these days, including Krugman, and MMT brings sanity to a world now enamored of austerity…which is the last thing our economies need right now.

Essays in Monetary Theory and Policy: On the Nature of Money (Continued), Samuel Ellenbogen (MA student at the University of Missouri, Kansas City), Naked Capitalism, 28 December 28, 2013.

Reply from the Editor

I am familiar with MMT, and have posted about it.

  1. America’s strength is an illusion created by foolish borrowing, 10 October 2012
  2. Prof Black blasts back at yesterday’s post about the US debt, 11 October 2012
  3. Ed Dolan talks to us about modern monetary theory. Can it save us?, 12 October 2012
  4. Ed Dolan Asks: What Does it Mean for Fiscal Policy to be “Sustainable”? MMT and Other Perspectives, 30 November 2012


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